Star Wars loves a good platitude, doesn’t it? Philosophical diatribes like “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” and “Do or do not, there is no try”. Obi-Wan Kenobi takes one such nugget of wisdom and frames its entire fifth episode around it, mostly to make Darth Vader look over-zealous.
‘Part V’ has the sci-fi series borrowing from The Last Jedi’s stand-off, with Obi-Wan, Leia, and their Path comrades all cornered by the Empire. They land in one of the Path’s bases, built out of a network of caves. Vader and Reva are right behind them, following a tracker left in Leia’s robot companion. As you’d imagine, Vader doesn’t take his eyes off the Path in hyperspace.
Stuck with a Sith Lord bearing down on them, Obi-Wan rallies everyone for a diversion that should allow most to get away. The odds are slim, but his confidence creates a belief in that margin. Before a shot’s been fired or a lightsaber activated, the rekindled Jedi Master has defeated Vader by proving fear is not all-encompassing.
Flashbacks of Anakin and Obi-Wan running through a sparring duel frame the episode. They’re evenly matched, but Anakin’s too confident for his own good. Gradually, we learn the greatest lesson Obi-Wan tried to teach his once young padawan.
This is the reunion of Christensen and McGregor that made the whole idea of an Obi-Wan TV series so appealing. Finally, these actors that always had chemistry could have another go, under different direction and scripting. Not to re-litigate George Lucas’s approach to the Prequel Trilogy, but there were choices that didn’t quite seem to make the most of the pair’s potential (to put it lightly).
Christensen, in particular, always seemed short-changed by his turn in the prequels. While I can’t say I’ve ever completely warmed to his performances, as an actor, he’s suffered persistent blowback from Lucas’s Star Wars movies. Not on the level of other performers in the franchise – he wasn’t harassed off social media or driven to mental illness by obsessive assholes – but Christensen’s been memed harder than most.
His scenes with McGregor here put him in a different light. Their fight has rhythm, both in lockstep as they bash lightsabers. McGregor is smooth in his line delivery, each one grazing Christensen, fueling the frustration. Anakin was easily angered; such was his downfall. But Obi-Wan never feared him, and if he really thought his brother would fall to the Dark Side, it’s not evident.
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That’s what makes the cut back to Vader’s helmet so heavy. Vader remembers. Vividly, it seems. Not everything, not enough to feel guilt or remorse, but certain things, like the look in Obi-Wan’s eyes. The friendship, the absence of judgement or fear. Obi-Wan saw exactly who Anakin was and emphatically believed he could keep him pure.
A cynical part of me sees this as nostalgia-bait, and look, it absolutely is. We could spend hours going over the underlying filmmaking outlook on Star Wars since the Sequel Trilogy. But it’s also clever because it serves to hoist both the prequels and sequels in tandem.
You have Christensen and McGregor together, working a scene beautifully captured by director Deborah Chow, that proves these Star Wars characters are defined by their performances. Then you have this echo of The Last Jedi’s third act, where the rebels weasel an escape from the Empire’s clutches through a mix of ingenuity, lasers, and good old-fashioned luck.
Both reference the Battle of Hoth, and keep consistent the motif of our heroes escaping by the skin of their teeth. Obi-Wan Kenobi, using a duel with Anakin as a backdrop, creates a bridge to Rey and Kylo Ren’s desire to break these cycles and forge a different path for themselves. Darth Vader isn’t Obi-Wan’s failure, he’s the Jedi’s failure, and until someone sees through that, this will keep happening.
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Vader is reminded time and time again of Obi-Wan’s lesson of being too driven by negative feelings to see what’s in front of him. When that happens again, Reva’s in the firing line. The only outlet Anakin has left is pain, for himself and others.
He still holds onto a time when that wasn’t true, though. A glimmer exists. We know one day he finds peace, and the galaxy does as well. That it takes so long is the cross laid upon Obi-Wan Kenobi’s shoulder and something he must carry alone.
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